Author: Hannah Rothschild
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication Date: November 3, 2015
Rating: ♦♦ out of ♦♦♦♦♦
Thirty-one year old Annie McDee is still recovering after the heartbreaking end to her long-term relationship and living in London where she has no friends and is far from the place she used to call home. With dreams of becoming a world class chef, Annie currently works as the chef for a sinister art dealer and her father. Trying to rebound following her break-up, Annie has entered into a relationship with a most unsuitable man who she ends up buying a dusty painting from a junk shop for. When her new boyfriend fails to show up for dinner, Annie attempts to return the painting to the secondhand shop where she purchased it from, only to find the shop has burned down. What follows is an interweaving narrative about Annie, her employers, and the history of the painting. With a former Nazi playing a prominent role I the history of the painting, Annie finds herself at the center of a sinister plot to frame her for crimes she didn’t commit or even know about.
I received an advanced e-galley of Hannah Rothschild’s The Improbability of Love courtesy of the Penguin’s First to Read program in exchange for an honest review.
Initially when I read the synopsis for Hannah Rothschild’s new book, The Improbability of Love, my interest was piqued and I was excited to read the book with it’s promise of mystery, murder, love and a long and unique history that revolves around a long lost painting by Watteau. Unfortunately, the story failed to live up to it’s promise for me, and it was not until about the last 100 pages of the book that I began to enjoy and be interested in the book to the point that I wanted to keep reading to see what would happen next. I fail to understand why the author felt the need to make the story 400 pages when it could’ve easily bee parsed down by removing a few things, and even character plot lines, that were not necessary to the story as a whole. The prologue was something that I feel could’ve been left out of the story as it introduced a slew of characters, many of whom were not imperative to the overall story and are only ever mentioned once again towards the end of the book.
One character who is given more page time than I think was necessary, is the exiled Russian, Vlad. The only reason I can see as to why Rothschild felt as though Vlad was needed to have such a presence in the story, was to help provide an explanation about how Vlad and Rebecca’s daughter come to meet and what happens to them. As it is though, their relationship happens so late in the book, and Rebecca’s daughter only makes an appearance once in the book; thus, their relationship and the two of them could’ve been removed without causing damage to the overall story.
The story could’ve very easily been told with the main characters of: Annie, her alcoholic mother Evie, the young artist Jesse who falls in love with Annie and who aids her in learning about the painting’s origins and eventually in trying to prove her innocence, the art dealer Rebecca and her father Memling Winkleman, and of course the painting which the story and all of the relationships revolve around.
The parts of the book I found the most enjoyable were: when the painting discussed it’s history from his conception to all of the historical people who owned it throughout the years, when Rebecca traveled to Berlin to find out the truth about her father and why he was so obsessed with finding The Improbability of Love painting, the troubled relationship between Annie and her mother, and when Annie was framed and Jesse worked to find out the truth in order to exonerate her. It was these parts of the story which made me enjoy the narrative story and feel as though the story was going somewhere and wasn’t someone’s random ramblings.
The narrative as told from the point of view of the painting was a unique concept and made for an interesting read. I couldn’t help but view the painting as a spoiled brat and a snob who whined all the time. It was good that the painting was humbled during the course of its ownership by Annie, for she was down to earth and served as a reminder of the creator of the painting who was no one special during his time and died at a young age. This ownership, allowed for the painting to do something for its current owner it couldn’t do for it’s original, or any owners following the death of Watteau, it allowed the painting to prove that one should never give up on love and it even brought new love into Annie’s life at a time when it was greatly needed.
It is apparent that the writer has done her research about the painter Watteau, how art historians work to verify a painting’s authenticity and about the different time periods and historical individuals who may have crossed paths with the painting. Being a fan of classical art, I enjoy learning about some of the classic painters like Van Gogh, Monet, Titian, Renoir and so forth, I did find aspects of the history in the book that were intriguing; but it became long-winded and tedious as it continued to be drawn out and mentioned at every turn.
In the end I’m not sure that I would recommend this to anyone, not even to my friends who enjoy art and stories about art. I can’t help but feel that there are better books out there with plots which revolve in and around art and the art world.